what game are we playing?

(This is the second in a two-part blog exchange between Shawn Parr and me.  Shawn is one of my favorite people and partners in crime, er, I mean client engagements.   A recent client experience led us to debate where strategy and execution connect and so I kicked things off with “Execution IS Strategy” on Shawn’s blog last week.  Now, here are Shawn’s thoughts on the topic.) 


Having observed many organizations, both global multi-national and start-ups, struggle with the definition and application of strategy and the meaning and right mode of execution, I thought I’d do something I vowed to never do, compare business to sport. While there’s nothing original in this comparison, and as a Brit I’m certainly not qualified to use American sports as the backdrop, I thought I’d have a go anyhow.

Let’s start by assuming that strategy is defined as the game plan that informs the team and gives then direction on how to play and achieve a clearly stated goal. And let’s assume that execution is the specific moves the team should play during the game. Using this example as the foundation, let’s look at some key rules that will help you execute and play a successful game.

What game are you playing?

Is your company operating with a clearly defined game plan or business strategy? Have either been shared with you and your team? Imagine playing a championship game without a game plan. It’s imperative, no matter the size or stage of your company, to ensure you have a clearly articulated purpose. The game plan is what informs and guides your strategy. The strategy must be clear and frequently communicated so that everyone playing on the team knows what’s expected of them and is connected to the bigger picture.

The lack of a clearly articulated, and then executed strategy has many direct and unintended consequences, not the least of which is a directionless team who creates their own game plan or start playing their own destructive games.

Make sure you know your position on the team 

Knowing what position you play on the team, whether you’re a goal keeper or a center-forward, and what part of the field you need to cover on is vital. You can’t work or contribute effectively without understanding your role or job description and have clearly defined expectations that you and your boss can measure your performance against. It’s the responsibility of a coach or manager to ensure that each team member knows his or her position on the team.

Put the right players in the right positions 

Once you’ve established your game plan and have a clear strategy that everyone understands in place, coaches and managers must ensure the players are in the right positions. Each player needs to have the capability and competency to meet the expectations set for his or her position on the team. Recognize and reward players who deliver, coach, and train the players who show potential and be courageous enough to remove those who don’t or can’t play.

How you play the game matters as much as winning the game 

It’s the coach’s and manager’s responsibility to direct and inspire the team so that each player reaches his or her full potential and strives to make the most out of their skills. With clearly defined positions for every player on the team, and a set of clearly defined guiding principles or values, the coach or manager has universally understood operating and training guidelines to help the team grow and play their best. And while one of the key metrics of success for every company is to make money, and the objective of almost every game is to win, how you make money and how you win shows your consumers and your fans the very character of your company. The way you run your company is more important than ever before and is reflected in training time and direction a coach invests in his team.

Train your team to win with their heads and their hearts 

How you lead and operate your business is on display for the world, and in today’s transparent and instant-media world training your team to work with integrity and operate using company values is key to sustainability and growing success. Employees become loyal and engaged, and consumers become fans when the spirit and character of your company is clear. Loyalty stems from commitment to training and ensuring your strategy and values are shared and understood by ever member of your team and how it is operationalized in their day-to-day.

Stop talking about playing a good game and go play one 

In business, and in sports there is too much time spent philosophizing and theorizing about how to execute a plan or play the game. The talkers are usually the ones who sound as though they’re experienced, but have rarely done the job or played in the position they’re pontificating about.  If the talkers put as much time into actually doing as they do in talking the company might be more successful.

GSD: Actions speak louder than words 

When I complain about work and its challenges my wife reminds me that “it’s called work for a reason”. It takes determination and hard work to stay the course and execute a plan, which in turn reminds me of one of my favorite mantras “GSD”.  Companies need a strategy and a plan that the right teams can execute against. It’s time to stop talking about the game and start playing it. It’s time Get Stuff Done.

Shawn Parr is the CEO and Guvner of Bulldog Drummond, a design and innovation consultancy working with some of the worlds largest and most purposeful brands. For the past 20 years Shawn has inspired and guided companies on how to solve their biggest challenges and build their brands, products and services to grow their business. Connect with Shawn on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter: @BD2 or @BULLDOGDRUMMOND, or www.bulldogdrummond.com/blog.

(The podcast today is my blogpost, Execution IS Strategy.)

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  • “… and have a clear strategy that everyone understands in place…”

    This will not just happen. Quite the contrary, this the big challenge. If there is no shared understanding of the strategy, then there is no execution of the strategy. And if there is no execution, there is no strategy.

    At Erasmus University Rotterdam, we developed a unique, innovative and scientifically sound tool that contributes to the challenge mentioned. Our diagnostic tool visually maps and objectively quantifies which organizational units are aligned and which ones are misaligned with the proclaimed strategy. S-ray Diagnostics is established as a spin-off company of our university. Its sole purpose is to bring our alignment solution to the market, so companies out there can benefit from our proven way to make strategy and execution one.

  • Thanks for sharing about your work Dr. de Haas — I’d love to see an example of your tool — might you share one? — denise lee yohn